NEW ORLEANS -- Five weeks ago, Ladell Betts was an impending free agent whose resume included little experience as a starter and a sketchy injury history.
Now, the running back has a new contract and, after four productive starts in place of Clinton Portis, stands on the cusp of his first 1,000-yard season.
Betts rushed for 119 yards yesterday in the Washington Redskins' 16-10 upset of the New Orleans Saints and needs only 67 yards over the next two games to reach 1,000.
Betts gained only 18 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 19, his first start in place of the injured Portis. He has gained 104, 155, 171 and 119 yards in the four starts since, a stretch in which the Redskins won twice.
"It's a little surprising, I have to be honest," Betts said. "But at the same time, I have confidence in myself. I wasn't worried about my production because I knew it was just a matter of getting an opportunity. I got one, and I've run with it."
The Redskins have run over their opponents the past four games, averaging 35.8 carries and 172.8 yards.
"Ladell has made a real statement for himself," coach Joe Gibbs said. "We know he is an exceptional back, but the way he's stepped up and led the team is super important for us."
Betts averaged an impressive 5.4 yards an attempt against the Saints. In his four-game roll, he had 22 carries of 10 yards or more.
Betts' last 1,000-yard season came as a senior at Iowa in 2001, when he gained 1,060 yards.
"I've been thinking about it the last couple weeks, but I'm really close to it now," he said of the milestone.
Taking no chances
The Redskins' troubles in the red zone continued against the Saints. They failed to score a touchdown in three trips inside the 20-yard line yesterday and have not scored a touchdown in their last nine trips into the red zone.
Two opportunities to break that streak were bypassed yesterday when Gibbs elected to kick field goals rather than go for a touchdown.
The Redskins faced third-and-1 at the Saints 14-yard line on the first drive of the game. Quarterback Jason Campbell dropped the snap and recovered his fumble, bringing up fourth-and-1 from the same spot.
Rather than go for it, Gibbs opted to attempt a 37-yard field goal (the Redskins sent out the field goal unit and were called for delay of game, resulting in a longer attempt).
"I was afraid of another bad snap, so that entered in the call," Gibbs said.
Leading 13-10 in the fourth quarter, the Redskins faced a fourth-and-3 at the Saints 4. Gibbs could have gone for it and increased the lead to 10 with a touchdown or, if that failed, at least left the Saints with lousy field position.
"I waited to see how far it was, and had it been really close, I would have gone for it," Gibbs said. "But I knew if we kicked the field goal, they had to score a touchdown. I felt it was the right thing to do."
Offensive tackle Jon Jansen didn't play because of a steadily worsening injury to a calf muscle.
Jansen tore the muscle before the Redskins' Nov. 5 game against the Dallas Cowboys, and the injury kept him out of an increasing number of practices in the following weeks. The pain was too great for him to practice last week, and yesterday he finally was forced to sit out a game.
Jansen missed all of the 2004 season because of a torn Achilles tendon but until yesterday had played every game in the other seven seasons of his career.
Jansen was replaced by Todd Wade, who started as a rookie in the Miami Dolphins' opener in 2000 and missed only four starts for the Dolphins and Texans until he tore the MCL in his right knee in Week 9 last season.
Yesterday's game was Wade's first since that injury.
The Redskins also declared inactive receivers Mike Espy and David Patten, defensive linemen Ryan Boschetti and Anthony Montgomery, tight end Brian Kozlowski and cornerback Mike Rumph. Todd Collins was the third quarterback.
The Redskins successfully challenged a ruling on the field by the officials for the first time since their Week 3 victory over the Houston Texans.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed an acrobatic, 13-yard pass to Billy Miller on a third-and-10 midway through the third quarter. Brees, however, was several yards past the line of scrimmage when he released the ball.
The Redskins challenged, and the Saints were penalized and forced to punt. The Redskins are 2-for-5 on challenges this year.
Center Casey Rabach played with a cast protecting the broken left hand he suffered in last week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rabach helped open holes for a running game that averaged 5.2 yards a carry and helped protect quarterback Jason Campbell, who was sacked only once in 29 dropbacks.
"It felt real good," Rabach said. "We numbed it up, and the [medical staff] protected it real well. We numbed it up. There were a couple of times blocking where my hands slipped off [the defender], and I had to recover with my feet. But we did pretty well. My guards really covered for me."
Rabach and Campbell failed to connect on one exchange, but the quarterback recovered the fumbled snap.
"I don't know what drugs Casey was on, but he was tough today," right guard Randy Thomas said, joking.